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Contemporary PNG Studies: DWU Research Journal Volume 16, May 2012 103 

Empowering youths: a case study of The Voice 

Daure Kiromat 


In this study, the researcher was looking for a definition of the concept of 
'empowerment' and how it was embedded in youth development 
programs that attempt to raise the self-esteem of marginalized young 
people and empower them to lead productive lives. Issues facing young 
people were identified as limited access to education and inadequate 
employment opportunities that frequently lead to crime, violence, 
substance abuse and high-risk behaviour. In addition to reviewing 
relevant literature, a case study was made of The Voice Incorporated 
organization. This organization was established by students at the 
University of Papua New Guinea (UPNG) as a way for students to look 
within themselves to discover their unique personalities and unleash the 
gifts and potential that lies dormant within them. While the term 
'empowerment' was not used in formulation of The Voice programs, this 
research highlights 'empowerment' as their core function. 

Key words: Pacific Island countries, Papua New Guinea, youth, 
empowerment, participation, youth development 


Approximately 20% of the total population of the Pacific island countries and 
territories is aged between 15 and 24 years, representing the most dynamic 
elements in the Pacific Island societies (Secretariat of the Pacific Community, 
2009, p. 5). Most of the Pacific Island countries are characterized by high 
numbers of young people dropping out of school and unable to find 
employment. Many others are turning to risky behaviours, exposing themselves 
to the dangers of substance abuse, unplanned pregnancies, sexually transmitted 
infections and HIV/ AIDS. There are many youths on the streets who feel they 
have no place in their own homes and communities. Many youths have often 
resorted to suicide while others have turned to criminal activities as a means of 
survival (McMurray, 2006). 

The development of any country should be inclusive of the wellbeing of all 
their citizens and this includes the youth population. Many youth programs 
have been designed and implemented with an aim to empower young people. 
But have we stopped to ask them what empowerment means to them? We often 
overlook this simple question. 

This research explored the experiences of an organization called The Voice 
formed by young students of the University of Papua New Guinea. It illustrates 

1 04 Kiromat, Empowering youths: a case study of The Voice Incorporated 

how young people in Papua New Guinea define empowerment, and how they 
have developed and implemented their own projects and programs, using that 
definition to contribute back to their communities. 


Many youth projects and programs have the objective of empowering youths 
but the question is 'what does empowerment mean to a youth?' Getting the 
youth perspective on what empowerment means can provide a useful insight 
when trying to formulate and implement youth projects, strategies and policies. 
This research provides a stepping stone towards a more comprehensive study 
and consultations with young people in Papua New Guinea on their thoughts 
on empowerment. It illustrates one approach that can be undertaken to 
contribute to the implementation of the current National Youth Policy and one 
approach which can be adopted by all actors involved in youth work in PNG. 
Young people can contribute to national development simply through 
developing projects reflecting their definition of empowerment. 



There are different definitions of youth used by different actors in the Pacific. 
The Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat terms of reference for the UNDP 
Regional Initiative on engaging marginalized youths, states that youth is about 
a group of people who are negotiating the transition from childhood to 
adulthood, from dependence to independence, from a passive social position to 
an active social position - the age when this happens differs from one country 
to another. The United Nations definition of youth is those people in the ages 
from 15-24 years while those from 0-14 are considered as children. However, 
Article 1 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of a Child defines 
'children' as persons up to the age of 18. This is intentional in order to provide 
protection and rights to a larger age group. Within the Pacific, it is common for 
those up to the age of 30 and unmarried to be regarded as youths as well. 


Empowerment as a theory originates from the Brazilian humanitarian and 
educator, Paulo Freire (1973), when he suggested a plan for liberating the 
oppressed people of the world through education (Hur, 2006). Freire stated that 
the oppressed or the disadvantaged can become empowered by learning about 
social inequality (i.e. conscientizing), encouraging others by making them feel 
confident about achieving social equality, and finally liberating them (Hur, 
2006, p. 527). 

According to the Commonwealth Plan of Action for Youth Empowerment 2007- 
2015, the Commonwealth Youth Ministers and Heads of Government have 
endorsed the view that: 

1) Young people are empowered when they acknowledge that they have or 
can create choices in life, are aware of the implications of those choices, 

Contemporary PNG Studies: DWU Research Journal Volume 16, May 2012 1 05 

make an informed decision freely, take action based on that decision and 
accept responsibility for the consequences of those actions. 
2) Empowering young people means creating and supporting the enabling 
conditions under which young people can act on their own behalf, and on 
their own terms, rather than at the direction of others. These enabling 
conditions fall into four broad categories: i) an economic and social base; 
ii) political will, adequate resource allocation and supportive legal and 
administrative frameworks; iii) a stable environment of equality, peace 
and democracy; and iv) access to knowledge, information and skills, and 
a positive value system. 

Youth empowerment 

According to Diwan (2003), youth empowerment is based on the belief that 
young people are the best resources for promoting their development and that 
they must be both architects and agents in meeting the challenges and solving 
the problems faced in today's world in the new millennium. 

Youth participation 

Youth participation is the way in which young people function and interact in 
society. It involves their roles in their families and in the wider community, and 
their participation in various aspects of life including education, the workforce, 
community activities and decision making. Central to the concept of youth 
participation are youth empowerment and youth engagement. That is being 
able to function effectively and work towards achieving their personal 
objectives and taking control of their lives (McMurray, 2006, p. 12). 

Research method 

The research involved a case study of The Voice Incorporated, a youth 
development organization of the University of Papua New Guinea. The main 
methods used for collecting data were questionnaires, interviews, observations, 
conversational interviews, written documents and official videos. Data 
interpretation was checked by the Executive Director of The Voice. Some 
constraints were the time factor for conducting the study and the availability of 
interviewees as they were students and had study commitments. Some 
founding members of The Voice could not be reached for interviews due to 
their work schedules. A strength was that I was previously a member of The 
Voice and had some insight into its goals and activities. 

Literature review 

In societies throughout Papua New Guinea, and in a number of Pacific Island 
nations, public decision making about significant family or community events 
has traditionally been the prerogative of older male family, clan or community 
members (O'Collins, 1985, p. 238). Youths and women were not allowed to 
speak nor have their views presented. 

While approximately 20 per cent of the total population of Pacific Island 
countries and territories is aged between 15 and 24 years, this figure is not 

1 06 Kiromat, Empowering youths: a case study of The Voice Incorporated 

represented in decision making processes. In both their families and 
communities, young people are expected to 'be seen and not heard' and there 
are few avenues for them to participate actively by voicing their needs. 
McMurray (2006) further explains that many parents expect their children to do 
as they are told without question and that government investment in youth is 
principally in the form of health and education services and that children and 
youth are expected to be satisfied with the services provided for them and 
remain silent. 

UNICEF (2005, cited by The World Bank, 2009) stated that it is evident that in 
most Pacific Island countries, young people are not completing secondary 
education and because of the lack of suitable employment activities, they turn 
to risky and criminal activities and are therefore unable to reach their full 
potential. The Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat argued that the socio-economic 
and political marginalization of youth has consistently been identified as one of 
the main factors which can contribute to youth adopting negative behaviours 
and getting involved in crime and violent conflict. 

The issue of law and order is one of the major impediments to development of 
any country and Papua New Guinea is no exception. The high levels of 
criminal activities have been blamed mostly on youths and lead to lowered 
levels of respect for this sector of the community. Youth issues continue to be a 
major concern in the region. Most efforts have focused on addressing the 
symptoms rather than the causes. UNICEF has suggested emphasis on youth 
participation or engagement in addressing the causes rather than involving 
them at the 'problem stage' (cited by World Bank, 2009, p. 5). UNICEF argues 
that the idea of investing in youth as a resource for development rather than 
regarding them as a problem group in society must be encouraged. 

Background of youth status in the Pacific 

The transition from childhood to adulthood involves physical, psychological 
and social changes and is almost always challenging. 

...the major task for adolescents is to re-evaluate who they are and how 
their bodies and identities have changed. They strive to establish final 
independence from their families and others their age, to become their 
own persons. They struggle to understand the meaning of life and how 
to interact with others of the opposite sex. They are faced with 
answering the question of how they want to spend the rest of their 
lives ..." 

(Donley & Keen, 2000, cited in McMurray, 2006) 

While many countries in the world struggle with issues relating to ageing 
populations, the Pacific faces the challenges of having youthful populations 
(Secretariat of the Pacific Community, 2009). Inadequate educational and 
formal employment opportunities leave many young people with limited skills 
and life choices which can attack their self-esteem and worth, ultimately 
causing them to turn to negative and risky behaviours. 

Contemporary PNG Studies: DWU Research Journal Volume 16, May 2012 1 07 

The Pacific is linked to cultural and societal norms and to a social structure of 
hierarchy and authority. Young people in the Pacific Island countries are 
traditionally expected to accept authority without question. A study by The 
World Bank (2008) reported that ignorance and unwillingness of parents and 
those in authority to understand the needs of young people limit youth 
participation in development even though youths state the adults and 
community leaders are aware of youth concerns. 

The following are the three main issues for youth in the Pacific according to a 
World Bank report (2009). 

Poor employment prospects: The growing youth bulge in the Pacific 
Island countries will not be fully engaged in the labour force because of 
low levels of investment and job creation. The shortage of skilled people 
for available jobs and the oversupply of unskilled workers reflect a great 
concern. Though some end up securing jobs, many are left constrained by 
limited education and experience and face difficulties in finding ways to 
improve in these aspects. 

Increasing marginalization: The biggest issue facing youth in many 
Pacific countries is the fear and reality of finding themselves marginalized 
and voiceless. According to Jayaweera and Morioka (2008, p. 10), the 
biggest issue facing youth in many Pacific countries is the fear and reality 
of finding themselves marginalized and voiceless. Through a study the 
researchers conducted on Youth Development through Participation, they 
found that the demographic shift in favour of a younger population 
suggested that the largest, fastest growing and arguably most important 
age group were finding it difficult to make any meaningful contribution to 
their country's future. 

Crime, violence and risky behaviour: The negative social and economic 
impact of reduced opportunities for youth are well understood and that 
there are reasons to fear that these [reduced opportunities] could intensify 
to a degree that creates instability. For instance, back in 1999-2000, there 
was a conflict that occurred in the Solomon Islands which was caused by 
a group of young people who were not satisfied with the opportunities 
available for them. The recent riot leading to looting and burning of Asian 
shops in Kainantu in PNG by youths is another example. 

These issues undermine the capacity of young people to contribute to their 
society and enjoy a fulfilling life. Those who do not receive sufficient or 
appropriate education and/or do not obtain employment can be viewed on one 
hand as under-utilized economic and social resources and on the other hand as 
citizens who are denied their social entitlement (McMurray, 2006). The lack of 
opportunities for young people either blocks or delays their transition to 
adulthood and often results in frustration, low self-esteem and many turn to 
alcohol and drug abuse, prostitution and criminal activities. 

108 Kiromat, Empowering youths: a case study of The Voice Incorporated 

In 2006, the World Bank Group (Papua New Guinea) commissioned Youth for 
a Sustainable Future Pacifika to undertake research into issues affecting young 
people's lives in six Pacific Island countries: Papua New Guinea, Fiji, Samoa, 
Solomon Islands, Tonga and Vanuatu. The research project resulted from youth 
consultations for the World Development Report (2007) in the South Pacific, 
which revealed a significant lack of understanding of the nature and reasons for 
marginalization of Pacific youth and how to encourage their participation in the 
development process. The research findings showed that the young people who 
took part in the research shared a vision, a vision to address the problems faced 
by young people in their country and being involved in making a positive 
change for themselves and their families. 

Youth status in PNG 

Papua New Guinea is the largest Pacific Island nation both in terms of 
population, approximately 6.5 million with a growth rate over 2%, and in terms 
of land mass, approximately 461,690 square kilometres (Government of PNG, 
2009). Forty percent (40%) of the sex-age structure is under the age of 15 years 
meaning that Papua New Guinea has a youthful population. Together with a 
population projected to double in 30 years, there is going to be a high demand 
and pressure on limited resources for further development and improvement in 
service delivery, including implementation of policies aimed at achieving the 
Millennium Development Goals (UNDP cited by UNESCO, 2007). 

Primarily, lack of education and employment opportunities may be listed as 
issues facing youths; however, there are many factors involved that are beyond 
the control of young people. For example, a young person may have the desire 
to go to school and to further their education but the lack of financial resources 
for school fees does not allow this to happen. The lack of spaces in higher 
education and tertiary levels is another underlying factor. Many educated 
young people do not progress on to formal employment because there is a lack 
of employment opportunities for them. 

The following status of young people in Papua New Guinea is summarised 
from the National Youth Policy 2007-2017 document (National Youth 
Commission of Papua New Guinea, 2007). 

The family: Papua New Guinea since Independence has experienced 
changes both socially and economically due to the process of 
modernization causing communities to seek wage employment. This has 
brought about confusion and broken down cultural controls and discipline 
methods within communities. The lack of housing and employment 
opportunities results in youths getting married or teenage girls having 
unplanned pregnancies while still living with their parents thus causing 
strain on food resources and other necessities. Ultimately many people 
become discontent and end up with families disintegrating and young 
people often left to fend for themselves. 

Contemporary PNG Studies: DWU Research Journal Volume 16, May 2012 1 09 

Population growth: With a population growth rate well above 2% per 
year (UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia Pacific, 2007; PNG 
Department of State, 2007, cited in UNESCO 2007) and the population 
estimated to double every 30 years, there is already pressure on existing 
resources. The high youth dependency of 40 % under the age of 15, 
affects the family's capacity to adequately cater for the needs of its family 

Education: More children and youth are able to be educated to grade 10 
and 12 under the current education system which promotes universal 
education. However, the limited number of spaces, high school fees, 
inadequate facilities, lack of qualified teachers and learning materials, 
lack of parental support towards the importance of education, and the 
inability of most families to send their children to school, are some 
underlying factors causing the low retention rates for many young people. 

Employment: The formal labour force, according to the Department of 
Education, has been able to employ less than 10,000 from the almost 
80,000 young people who leave the education system each year. National 
statistics show that only 53% of children have completed primary school, 
30% are not attending schools and 33% have never attended school. Only 
about 5% of the population has completed secondary school, with slightly 
higher figures for urban (13.6%) populations (National Statistics Office, 

Urbanization and urban migration: Two main factors that cause growth 
in urban population are: 1) migration of rural people to urban centers and 
2) the desire for modernization for commerce and industry with the desire 
for urban facilities such as health and education. With the high rate of 
school drop outs and unemployment among youths and the lack of family 
or social support, many youths become disadvantaged and often turn to 
alcohol and drug abuse, prostitution, gangs and criminal activities. 

Importance of empowering youth 

'Problem behavior' in young people is widely recognized by social workers 
and psychologists as a response to stressed situations or circumstances 
(UNICEF Pacific, Secretariat of the Pacific Community and UNPF, 2005). 
Young people have a high level of energy and have potential to work hard. 
They are full of ideas and it is important to have channels to express 
themselves and opportunities to develop their attributes. When they are unable 
to find creative and constructive channels to positively utilize their talents and 
energy, they turn these energies towards negative behaviour. Thus they are 
often blamed as being the problem or causing problems in families, 
communities and the country. This misconception is the reason why youth 
issues still exist. 

The issues stated such as youths engaging in criminal activities, prostitution, 
drug and alcohol abuse are not problems in themselves but symptoms of 

110 Kiromat, Empowering youths: a case study of The Voice Incorporated 

underlying and interrelated economic and social problems .There are many 
projects and programs developed to prevent high risk youth behaviour and little 
has been done towards addressing the underlying causes. Because 'problem 
behaviour' is a response to stressed situation or circumstances, then behaviour 
is what has to be targeted. 

When one has a positive view about oneself, one has a high self esteem as 
opposed to low self-esteem. Those with a positive self view, have confidence 
and are optimistic in challenging situations. They can overcome setbacks and 
continue to pursue their goals in life. On the other hand, lack of confidence, 
negative outlook and lack of determination and persistence is the result of 
having low self-esteem. 

According to a study done by UNICEF Pacific, Secretariat of the Pacific 
Community and UNPF (2005), there are at least two reasons why empowering 
youth is the key to addressing many youth issues. First, when youths are 
disempowered and marginalized rather than productively employed, they 
depend on others for support, thus becoming burdens on society rather than 
assets. Utilizing their skills turns them into productive members in society. 
Second, empowering youths assists them to discover their potential and reduces 
high risk behaviour. 

The research explores what empowerment means to The Voice and how they 
have used that definition to formulate their programs. It also illustrates how a 
group of young people who are passionate about making a positive change in 
their lives and that of their families and communities can influence other young 
people around them to realize that they too can discover their potential and 
voice to speak up to make a difference. 

Case study: The Voice 

The Voice is a vibrant youth development organization run by the youth for the 
youth. Through training, mentoring and guidance young people are encouraged 
to look within themselves to discover their unique personalities and unleash the 
potential that lies dormant within them. The Voice also creates avenues for 
young people to get involved in their communities through advocating on 
issues and implementing small projects. The Voice is proudly supported by the 
University of Papua New Guinea and is committed to building the young 
people of the nation. 

The Voice was set up by a group of students from the University of Papua New 
Guinea who decided for themselves that just talking about issues that they read, 
listened to and watched from the media was not enough. They realized that the 
thing that separated them from people in rural areas and those disadvantaged is 
their higher level of education. With determination to do something about 
youth issues, they set out to form The Voice which was formally launched in 
2007 by the Governor General His Excellency, Sir Paulius Matane. After 
conducting a large number of activities including workshops, community 

Contemporary PNG Studies: DWU Research Journal Volume 16, May 2012 111 

outreach programs, concerts and rural challenges, to analyze the problems The 
Voice came up with the following statement. 

Many young people do not have vision for their lives. Many live 
surrounded by violence, poverty, alcohol and drug abuse, purposelessness 
and idleness. And yet, all people have a purpose in life and lack of 
knowledge of that purpose causes people to live far below their potential. 
The deepest craving of the human spirit is to find a sense of significance 
and relevance. This search for relevance in life is the ultimate pursuit of 
man and the passion for significance knows no boundaries. The key to 
having positive communities is to give our young people a sense of 
significance and relevance. It is by enabling them to realize their purpose 
and potential, their responsibility to use their gifts, talents, passions and 
dreams to serve their world. 

From this basis they formed the vision of the organization to see generations of 
young people driven by purpose and confident in the value of their contribution 
to their communities, nation and the world. Their mission is: to empower young 
people through their educational programs to become confident individuals 
and to create avenues for them to contribute back to their communities. 
'Empowerment in terms of The Voice is really getting people to come to that 
place where they are passionate to want to act.' (Serena Sasingian, founder and 
Executive Director of The Voice) 

Disempowerment: Why we do not act 

Problems Empowerment to act Actions 

Figure: 1 What empowerment means to The Voice Incorporated. 

Realising that education does not guarantee a good and fulfilling life, The 
Voice believes that the fundamental problem facing developing nations such as 
Papua New Guinea is not poverty, law and order, resources or corruption but 
rather people; the lack of purpose and significance that citizens have. The Voice 
has a four step enabling process aimed at achieving their mission. 

1. The Voice enables young people to reach their full potential through 
training and mentoring 

2. The training and mentoring enables the young people to create change 
through the designing and implementation of their own programs 

3. Our programs enable community development through advocacy and 
sustainable project work 

4. Our advocacy and project work enables progress to be reached in 
achieving our vision and values. 

(The Voice Strategic Directions Statements) 

112 Kiromat, Empowering youths: a case study of The Voice Incorporated 

Therefore The Voice designed a training program called the DREAM program 
which stands for Drive, Relationship, Education, Attitude and Mission. It was 
aimed at young first and second year university students who undergo a ten- 
week program of self discovery of their gifts and talents to discover how best 
they could effectively contribute back to their communities. Students in third or 
fourth year or those who had graduated from UPNG and were part of The 
Voice were engaged to give encouragement and support. Following are a few 
comments from participants which attest to the success of the program. 

'The DREAM Program is overwhelmingly amazing, motivating and 
inspirational. I feel a sense of purpose and belonging just by being a part 
of it. It makes me see things from a perspective I never knew existed and 
also helps me in getting to know myself as an individual whose 
contribution counts to her country if she will only give herself a chance. 
Everything about the Dream Program, I embrace'. (Claire, 1st year 
Political Science student, Dreamer) 

'The DREAM Program has built my confidence. It has taught me to be 
honest and it has also taught me that my point of view counts '. (Tomas, 
student, Dreamer) 

'The DREAM Program really helped me to see where I am standing in 
life, the society and what I can use in me to make a change'. (Clyde, 1st 
year student, Dreamer). 

The DREAM Program was first carried out in 2008. It has now developed into 
the main training program of The Voice, primarily aimed at motivating the 
young people participating to discover within themselves what they want to 
achieve in life, discover what they are passionate about, and help them to find 
an avenue to pursue their passions. 

Barbara was in the second year of her studies when she attended the first 
DREAM Program session on Motuporea Island in 2008. Now a final year 
Environmental Chemistry student, her passion is to work with communities and 
help people realise that they have a purpose in life. Barbara developed the 
Community Advocacy Project of The Voice with the main message being to 
empower individuals in communities to be purposeful, discourage idleness and 
to advocate that the power to change lies in one's own hands. Despite the 
demanding nature of being a student, especially in her final year, Barbara 
organised her team to visit Mina, a missionary who took in street kids and 
provided them with not only food and shelter but also taught them about 
hygiene, good manners and virtues. 

'When you're passionate about something, you find the drive to do what 
you have to do, so you find the time' . (Barbara, mentor) 

When asked why they wanted to be a part of this group to visit these street 
kids, the team members gave similar insights. 

Contemporary PNG Studies: DWU Research Journal Volume 16, May 2012 113 

'Children are always looking up to someone, some role model figure that 
they will see and they will want to follow... by connecting to them, I 
personally hope that I will be a figure to them because given the 
background that I came from, I once lived in the streets, in the settlements 
where there are a lot of homeless children where there is no role model or 
figure for them to look up to in which the children can be led astray and 
involve in all sorts of illegal activities. What I hope is to be a role model 
and maybe they will follow my example and try to be somebody in the 
future '. (Joel, 2nd year law student, Dreamer) 

'The parents don 't see the value of education. Even though Mina [the 
missionary] is the one paying for their school fees, the parents don't take 
them to school or have an active involvement in their education. So I think 
it is important for us as role models to go there, encourage them and let 
them know that they can become chefs, pilots or whatever they dream 
about becoming in the future'. (Lisa, 3rd year law student, Mentor) 

Photograph 1: The Voice Community Advocacy Team 

The DREAM program is causing positive mindsets and raised self esteem 
among the participants called 'Dreamers'. It creates an inner awareness of their 
capabilities and nurtures them into confident young people who want to make a 
positive change for themselves and those around them. 

Interpretations on youth perspectives about empowerment 

The findings will be classified into three broad categories: self awareness about 
youth empowerment; perspective or definition of empowerment and 
importance of empowering youth. Researchers have identified empowerment 
as a key component to a positive youth development approach (Benson, 1997 
cited in Wong, 2008). 

Self awareness about empowerment 

114 Kiromat, Empowering youths: a case study of The Voice Incorporated 

The first question asked, before handing out the questionnaire to the members 
of The Voice was; have you ever been interviewed before regarding young 
people's perspective on youth empowerment? Two out of the eight members 
who participated in this qualitative research, said 'yes'. One explained that 
while in high school, the World Bank representatives asked the students what 
their views were about issues facing the country. 

When asked if the students were asked specifically about how they defined the 
concept of empowerment, the answer was 'no'. This primary question was 
asked verbally to random young people not part of The Voice during informal 
conversations and all replied 'no'. When asked about the importance of 
defining 'empowerment' all responded that they have never really given much 
thought to it. The initial questionnaire did not include the question but was 
asked verbally. Upon collection of the questionnaire, the need became apparent 
to include the question to have the answer captured in writing. 

Empowerment occurs through the creation of a collective critical consciousness 
also known as critical awareness which, according to Freire, is achieved when 
'people develop their power to perceive critically the way they exist in the 
world with which and in which they find themselves; they come to see the 
world not as a static reality, but as a reality in the process, in transformation' 
(italics in original, [1970] 2003, p. 83 cited in Wong, 2008). He also explains 
that people are oppressed or disempowered when they are unaware of causes 
that shape their conditions. This is reflected through the case study. The Voice 
was established as a result of collective awareness about issues occurring 
around the country and the world and the passion to want to act. Further, 
through their activities they create a sense of awareness among their members 
about the significance of one's potential and responsibility to serve their 
communities, the nation and the world. 

As discovered through the data collected, empowerment as a concept was not 
the actual term used as the basis in the formulation of the DREAM program; 
rather it was a result of the principles and values of The Voice. Not much 
emphasis was given to what the concept means to a youth despite being widely 

Perspective about youth empowerment 

Before exploring participants' perspectives about youth empowerment, there 
were some lead-in questions such as: Describe a situation where as a young 
person, you were not heard or not involved and how did that make you feel? 
The majority responded relating to their villages where culture still plays a 
significant role in drawing the line of responsibility between elders and youths 
and the elders retaining the decision making power. Gender inequality was also 
highlighted and was linked again to culture. One male responded that lack of 
family support for his interests often made him feel left out. 

Contemporary PNG Studies: DWU Research Journal Volume 16, May 2012 115 

Youth empowerment according to Wong (2008) requires adults to be actively 
involved in fostering conditions and opportunities for youth to develop critical 
consciousness. It can be argued that other adult figures apart from parents, can 
offer the necessary support that youths needs to motivate them. The Voice has 
two older people as its chairperson and vice-chairperson who give advice and 
guidance to their operations. When youths find peers who have the same values 
and interests, this may also lead to empowerment as they discuss and share 

Although youth projects, in which participants were involved, were concerned 
with 'youth empowerment', the study found that participants had not actually 
analysed the term until they were asked. Table 2 presents an analysis of the 
responses of participants which reflects the main view that the involvement of 
adults in the process is critical. 

Table 1: Respondents' views youth empowerment. 

Definition of youth empowerment 


Adults providing opportunities for youths to participate 


Communication between adults and youths 


Process of self discovery of potentials (linked to the 
DREAM program) 


Importance of empowering youths 

On the other hand, the values of the DREAM program (drive, relationship, 
education, attitude and mission) were promoted through activities provided by 
senior students for junior students at the University. They were aimed at 
helping people discover what they wanted to achieve in life and were 
passionate about, and how they could build on this to be productive citizens in 
society. While the term 'empowerment' was not used in formulation of the 
DREAM program, this research highlights 'empowerment' as its core function. 

'When you want to empower someone, you can't empower them unless 
you give them the opportunity to do it themselves. They have to be able to 
experience whatever that is, so that they can have the feeling of what's 
happening. Otherwise, it's like saying, I'm going to swim, but you're on 
land. You have to be in the water to learn how to swim. (Cargo, et al., n.d) 

Through The Voice, youth empowerment emerged as a process of self 
discovery and young people's passion to take action. Challenge, ongoing 
support and responsibility are also a part of this process. For example, Barbara 
defined empowerment as 'helping a youth to discover his or her potential or 
passions and then working with them to help facilitate that'. This self definition 
connects to the Community Advocacy Program she developed and an activity 
she organized under this where she and her team aimed to help Mina's street 
kids find their purpose in life just like they have. 

116 Kiromat, Empowering youths: a case study of The Voice Incorporated 

The most common response to the importance of empowering youths today 
was, 'the old generation will pass and the young generation will take their 
place'. The data analysis shows that almost all respondents have overlooked 
what empowerment means even though they are part of a youth organization 
aimed at empowering other young people. Through observations and 
conversational interviews, it was noted that the young people interviewed were 
participants in the Dream program and the Community Advocacy Program. Yet 
they had not really understood what empowerment is, unlike Barbara and 
Serena who designed the programs. This clearly shows that those designing 
projects reflect their views of empowerment and not necessarily the views of 
those participating. However, all of them were eager about contributing in any 
way they could to make a positive change, be it within their friends, families or 
the wider community. 


One purpose of this study was to find an answer to the question: 'what does 
empowerment mean to youths?' The findings revealed that the respondents had 
a very narrow or limited view of empowerment and most had never given 
much thought to analysing the term until they were asked. As this is a basic 
tenet of youth development programs, it is important that organizers have an 
understanding that, 

Young people are empowered when they acknowledge that they have or 
can create choices in life, are aware of the implications of those choices, 
make an informed decision freely, take action based on that decision and 
accept responsibility for the consequences of those actions; Empowering 
young people means creating and supporting the enabling conditions 
under which young people can act on their own behalf, and on their own 
terms, rather than at the direction of others, (Commonwealth Youth 
Commission, 2007). 

This research explored youth issues in Pacific Island countries, with a focus on 
PNG, and how youth empowerment activities could be used to address those 
issues. The research used case study methodology to illustrate the approach of 
The Voice activities. This organization promoted a process of self discovery of 
a person' s talents and consideration of how they could be put to optimal use to 
benefit others. The research uncovered strong links between the activities of 
The Voice and the concept of 'youth empowerment'. 

There is no simple solution to addressing youth issues because underlying 
causes are interrelated. There are many different situations that young people 
are in. What youth empowerment means to university students such as those in 
the research will differ to a young person who has grown up in a family that 
has insufficient income to afford school fees, or a young person who has grown 
up in a violent family, or a young person who has lost one or both parents. 

The Papua New Guinea National Youth Policy 2007-2017 calls for all sectors 
of the Papua New Guinea community, whether in public, private sector, non 

Contemporary PNG Studies: DWU Research Journal Volume 16, May 2012 117 

government, faith-based organizations, international agencies, families and 
individuals to work together to assist our young people to achieve their pursued 
goals and to participate meaningfully in the country's development. The 
Minister responsible for all youth development in the country, Dame Carol 
Kidu gave this message; 'All young people are now called to step forward to 
play an active role on the implementation of this policy together with 
stakeholders. Your participation will ensure that you will derive maximum 
benefits from the Policy initiatives' (National Youth Commission, 2007). 

It is time for youths to define for themselves who they are and how they want 
to make a change in their lives, their families, communities, their country and 
their world. This research found that the approach used by The Voice in its 
DRREAM program was an effective way for their participants to feel 
empowered to contribute to their personal and national development. 


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'Empower-ment as fostering positive youth development and citizenship.' 

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Youth Empowerment 2007-2015. Commonwealth Youth Programme. 

Commonwealth Government. 
Diwai, A. (2003). Youth Empowerment-Panorama. [Online] Available at: 

95 [Accessed 29 April 2010.] 
Hamena, R. (2008). How can traditional culture be a link to positive youth 

development? A case study in Goroka, PNG. A thesis submission in 

partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Master of 

Philosophy in Development Studies. Massey University, Palmerston 

North, New Zealand. 
Hur, M. H. (2006). Empowerment in terms of theoretical perspectives: 

Exploring a typology of the process and components across disciplines. 

Journal of Community Psychology. Vol. 34, No. 5, pp. 532-540. Konkuk 

University. Wiley InterScience [Online] Available at: [Accessed 29 April 2010.] 
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development through participation. Youth for a Sustainable Future 

Pacifika, commissioned by The World Bank . 
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factors and lessons learned. Paper presented for a seminar on 'Children's 

Rights and culture in the Pacific', October 30th 2006. 
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2050. National Strategic Plan Taskforces. Papua New Guinea 
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Daure Kiromat is of Manus and Central parentage but grew up in the Western 
Highlands Province of PNG. She holds a Bachelor Degree in Arts-Political 
Science (Minor in Public Policy Management). She was one of 25 Cadets 
selected from close to 600 applicants to participate in the Careers in 
Development Program. The Careers in Development Program pulled together a 
total of 21 donor organisations, international non government organisations, 
and managing contractors within Papua New Guinea, to improve career 
opportunities in development for Papua New Guineans. The Cadetship covers a 
20 month period and is designed to assist the cadet in gaining management 
standards relevant to working in development agencies. Her research was 
carried out during the 20 month cadetship program while being placed with 
World Vision International (Pacific Development Group) and later CARE 
International in PNG (Goroka). 

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